Though the country’s political arena has been relatively peaceful compared to the frightful years of 2013, 2014 and 2015, there are fears that we may once again enter a period of instability as the 11th general elections approach.
The election was held on this day in 2014 amid widespread violence and a boycott by opposition parties including the BNP.
Since then, the Awami League celebrates the day as “Victory Day for Democracy” while the BNP observes it as “Democracy Killing Day” by bringing out black-flag processions.
While Awami League, sections of civil society and even BNP leaders in private say that BNP made a blunder by boycotting the election, party leaders continue to assert in public that their decision to sit out the vote was correct, even though they failed to make their movement against the government a success.
Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, Awami League Join General Secretary Abdur Rahman said that by boycotting the election, BNP made a big mistake which left them out of the political arena.
However, several BNP leaders said their party chief Khaleda Zia’s decision to stay away from the 10th parliamentary election was ‘100%’ correct.
Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, a pro-BNP intellectual, said: “I think there was nothing wrong in Khaleda Zia’s decision to boycott the January 5 election held under Awami League chief Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
“I warned Khaleda of such a one-sided election in November [in 2013] and advised her to take to the streets.”
There would have been a wave in BNP’s movement all over the country had she taken to the streets way ahead of the polls, he observed, adding that there might have been some bloodshed, but the party would have gathered momentum.
“But they had waged a movement in late December, when the government confined Khaleda to her Gulshan office so that she could come out.”
The founder of the Gonoshasthaya Kendra also said that by confining the BNP chief, the government had actually provided BNP men an opportunity to take to the streets and try to assess their strength, but they failed to grasp it.
“BNP men could not wage a strong movement, and their central leaders did not even convey any message or instruction to leaders and activists at the grassroots level.”
‘January 5 election was a collective mistake’
Asif Nazrul, a professor at Dhaka University, said holding the Jan 2014 election was a “collective” mistake and that all parties were responsible for this.
“The Awami League has repeatedly said the next general election will not be held the way the last election was held. So I think that holding the next election in a participatory manner is a must to remedy the mistake,” he added.
BNP should have accepted Hasina’s proposal
Former president Dr AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury said that before the election was held, Hasina invited Khaleda to Ganabhaban to discuss procedural issues and join an interim government, the BNP did not respond to her call.
“BNP should have participated in the election by accepting her proposal to join the interim government. They made a mistake by not accepting the proposal,” he observed.
‘BNP’s decision was correct’
Asked whether their decision to boycott the polls was a mistake, Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, a member of the party’s Standing Committee, claimed their party chief’s decision to sit out the vote was absolutely correct.
“BNP always fights for people’s democratic rights. Our democratic governance system has been destroyed through the January 5 election. We, as a democratic political party, can never support such a farcical election.”
‘No election under Hasina’
Asked about their plans to participate in the next election to be held under the same Awami League-led government, Khasru said: “BNP is ready to contest the polls, but that does not mean that we will go into an election under the Hasina government.
“Our party will put forward a formula for an election-time ‘supportive government’ in due course, and it will be open to other parties as well, for discussion.”
BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said they would hold peaceful programmes to observe the day.
He alleged: “Awami League leaders are plotting to destabilize the political atmosphere by spreading lies and propaganda against BNP’s peaceful rallies. They do not want to see a peaceful political climate prevail in the country.
“Law enforcement agencies have already started to arrest our leaders and activists and are harassing them.”
BNP Joint Secretary General Moazzem Hossain Alal alleged that the government is trying to keep the BNP out of the polls as they are rapidly proceeding with cases filed against BNP leaders, including Khaleda.
“We have information that the government wants to keep us out of the election by sentencing our party chief in ‘false’ cases. They also want to cancel our party’s registration.”
Three alternative proposals
Wishing anonymity, three BNP Standing Committee members said the BNP would put forward at least three alternative proposals for forming the “supportive government” to facilitate a free and fair election, adding that the proposals would be their strongest trump card in the next polls slated for December this year.
The proposals include forming a polls-facilitating government involving ten former caretaker government advisors and retired bureaucrats, forging a political unity where all parties will be invited to join their brand of interim government, and forming the polls-time government with former and incumbent lawmakers.
They said Awami League chief Prime Minister Sheikh would have to be kept out of the polls-time government, no matter how it is formed.
Several BNP leaders said they are determined that they will not participate in any election under Hasina.
The Awami League does not have the guts to hold another election like the one in 2014, they added.